The Wedding of the Century: Virtually

“The Four Horsemen Give Up And Retire” blared a satirical editorial supporting their decision and mocking the thundering sermons and condemnation from those warning the ‘End is Nigh’. Other platforms, especially those who existed only online, put up a spirited defense with phrases like: “Forget Mars! Webnauts are the future of humankind”. That was another debate that raged in forums and vlogs: What to call them? Besides webnauts; other popular names included netdivers, interspacers and haboob. The later an acronym taken from the Arabic name for a dust storm.

Not since the election had the web been so consumed with shouting an opinion, which was ironic [irony having passed away with the inexorable rise of social media] considering that the individuals who were being called—Human.Avatars.Blogging.Openly.Online.Bodiless—were in fact completely unknown. Some claimed they were constructs of the Deep State created as Artificial Intelligence to wrest the internet from the fingertips of the free citizens of the world. Still others pointed the blame at tech companies, or aliens, or any number of hostile governments depending on who was actually writing the post. In private chat rooms, science fiction writers smugly congratulated themselves on their perspicacity and simultaneously bemoaned the lack of comprehension by policymakers and brainstormed ways to cash in on the frenzy.

They2.0, which is how ‘they’ always referred to each other, claimed to be post-racial, post-gender and post-dirt humans. Despite the best attempts of hackers, both freelance and government sponsored, no one found any evidence to contradict ‘their’ claim ‘they’d’ uploaded ‘their’ sentience into the Cloud and then had ‘their’ bodies destroyed. And thus, on October 29th, in front of a worldwide audience watching live-streamed video on multiple platforms, two hologram avatars exchanged vows and were duly married by a flesh-and-blood minister. After the ceremony, ‘they’ invited selected journalists back to ‘their’ VR home via interactive headsets.

As one prominent reporter later said off-the-record, “It was the craziest fucking thing I’ve ever seen, but damn if it didn’t make me jealous to see the world ‘they’d’ created. ‘They’ll’ always be remembered for being the first to go, but I doubt ‘they’ll’ be alone for long.”

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Transgender ban versus science

The ban on transgender individuals serving in the United States military was reinstated on August 25th, by the current President. This was not a surprise given the rhetoric during the campaign and the promises made to the winning electoral base. Given the plethora of ‘fake news’ accusations being hurled by ‘both sides’, I wanted to contrast the decision to sign the ban, with a trio of recent articles in magazines.

Before I link to the information, I wanted to state for the record that, although I do not identify as LGBTQ or any of the currently more than 50 ‘labels’ for gender’; I do understand what it’s like to exist with different genders and orientations inside. As a multiple personality who is male by birth, has an incredibly vibrant and compassionate woman as the strongest other, and who himself is several personalities removed from the original boy: I know from first-hand knowledge that gender is not genitals, but centered in the mind.

The January 2017 issue of National Geographic Magazine, featured a transgender girl on the cover. The article title, How Science Is Helping Us Understand Gender, leads into an exploration of how the mind and hormones determine gender. I doubt very much if the issue changed many minds, but it certainly solidified my support for transgender rights.

National Geographic, by Robin Marantz Henig: Many of us learned in high school biology that sex chromosomes determine a baby’s sex, full stop: XX means it’s a girl; XY means it’s a boy. But on occasion, XX and XY don’t tell the whole story.

Today we know that the various elements of what we consider “male” and “female” don’t always line up neatly, with all the XXs—complete with ovaries, vagina, estrogen, female gender identity, and feminine behavior—on one side and all the XYs—testes, penis, testosterone, male gender identity, and masculine behavior—on the other. It’s possible to be XX and mostly male in terms of anatomy, physiology, and psychology, just as it’s possible to be XY and mostly female.

Each embryo starts out with a pair of primitive organs, the proto-gonads, that develop into male or female gonads at about six to eight weeks. Sex differentiation is usually set in motion by a gene on the Y chromosome, the SRY gene, that makes the proto-gonads turn into testes. The testes then secrete testosterone and other male hormones (collectively called androgens), and the fetus develops a prostate, scrotum, and penis. Without the SRY gene, the proto-gonads become ovaries that secrete estrogen, and the fetus develops female anatomy (uterus, vagina, and clitoris).

But the SRY gene’s function isn’t always straightforward. The gene might be missing or dysfunctional, leading to an XY embryo that fails to develop male anatomy and is identified at birth as a girl. Or it might show up on the X chromosome, leading to an XX embryo that does develop male anatomy and is identified at birth as a boy.

Genetic variations can occur that are unrelated to the SRY gene, such as complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS), in which an XY embryo’s cells respond minimally, if at all, to the signals of male hormones. Even though the proto-gonads become testes and the fetus produces androgens, male genitals don’t develop. The baby looks female, with a clitoris and vagina, and in most cases will grow up feeling herself to be a girl.

Which is this baby, then? Is she the girl she believes herself to be? Or, because of her XY chromosomes—not to mention the testes in her abdomen—is she “really” male?

Continuing the gender wars, Vogue magazine weighs into the fight with two articles in the August 2017 edition. This first tackles the fashion industry with the quote “You see boys wearing makeup, girls buying menswear—they are not afraid to be who they are. This category or that category—who cares? They want to define themselves.” The essay itself leads off linking Virginia Woolf with Tumbler.

Vogue Magazine by Maya Singer: Midway through Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, a startling transformation takes place: Our hero, Duke Orlando, awakens from a seven-day slumber to find that he has switched genders. “Orlando had become a woman,” Woolf writes, “but in every other respect, Orlando remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity.”

He becomes they. The pronouns shift, but the person remains the same. Woolf’s words, written in 1928, could easily be mistaken for a manifesto posted yesterday on Tumblr, the preferred platform for the growing cohort of “fluid” young people who, like Orlando, breezily crisscross the XX/XY divide. Fashion, of course, has taken note of the movement, which is sufficiently evolved to boast its own pinups, including Jaden Smith, recently the star of a Louis Vuitton womenswear campaign, and androgynous Chinese pop star (and Riccardo Tisci muse) Chris Lee. But where, exactly, is someone neither entirely he nor she meant to shop? And how, exactly, is such a person to be defined?

This new blasé attitude toward gender codes marks a radical break.

“I have a friend who identifies as ‘all boy, all girl, all male, all female,’” says Gypsy Sport designer Rio Uribe, who is known for his party-like fashion shows cast with pals from all along the gender spectrum. “It’s like—what is that? But it doesn’t matter what it is.” Eluding the labels, constructing an identity apart—for Uribe, that’s “a clapback to a society that wants to define you.”

For a demographic so keenly attuned to being looked at, style serves as a convenient means of liberation. And so it’s always been, as Marc Jacobs points out.

“These kids—I’m not sure they’re any different from the people I saw at Danceteria or Mudd Club in the eighties,” Jacobs says. “The difference is that back then, the expression—extreme looks, cross-dressing, what have you—was hidden away in a speakeasy or a club. Today, thanks to the Internet, that culture is widely exposed.”

The second article builds upon the National Geographic story, by interviewing parents and their transgender children. How the Parents of Trans Teens Are Fighting for Their Kids’ Lives, shows how love and acceptance can be a powerful force for change when faced with an often hostile school system, medical and insurance industries in denial, and the suicide provoking pressures of a judgemental society bent on ridiculing those with differences.

Vogue Magazine by Rebecca Johnson: Almost a decade ago, Judy Caplan Peters’s four-year-old made an announcement that would shake their family’s values to its core. “Mommy,” the little one said, hand on chest as if to recite the pledge of allegiance, “I’m a boy.”

A simple enough statement except that, up until that moment, her child had been raised a girl. Sander*, as he’s known now, had been born with a girl’s anatomy, went by a girl’s name, and dressed in girls’ clothes.

His mother did not try to argue him out of it. She’d seen the signs, beginning with the phone calls from school advising that her child refused to sit with the girls when the students were divided by gender. Or saying that Sander had a headache, a stomachache, or just wasn’t feeling well and wanted to come home. She knew Sander was not happy on some fundamental level, which, for her, meant she did not have a choice in the matter. “You either love your child for who they are,” she says, “or you don’t. It’s that simple.”

Simple but not easy. “I had to go through a grieving process,” Caplan Peters admits, “because I was losing my daughter, but then you realize that your child is not dead or sick or lost, which, God forbid, some parents have to deal with. Your child is healthy. There is nothing wrong with them. This is how they were born.”

Previous generations of transgender people look at the children taking hormone-blocking drugs in awe. When the writer Andrew Solomon attended a gender conference to gather research for his groundbreaking book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, he met trans people who openly wept when they encountered young people who would never have to go through what they had: puberty as the wrong sex. “It’s fantastic,” says novelist and trans activist Jennifer Finney Boylan about hormone treatment. “I was OK with my androgynous body as a child, but when puberty hit and the girls started going one way and I had to go with the brutes, I thought, Oh, no, this is going to be bad.” Thirty years later she transitioned to female, becoming one of the movement’s earliest and most articulate voices.

We in the BDSM community attract unwelcome attention and scorn for our chosen lifestyle, even though D/s and spanking is more mainstream than ever before. But being more visible doesn’t translate to being accepted. I grew up in a liberal/progressive big city, but even there, hetero marriage with a white picket fence was the ideal. I don’t ever recall a conversation or dialogue about sex outside the norm of male enters female and reproduces, and fluid gender was about as remote as watching live events on a mobile phone.

To give you a reference point, when I was a senior in high school, Bruce Jenner came for an assembly that was held at the track field. There was no way anybody in the audience of thousands, could have ever envisioned a day when he, would transition to she, and be known as Caitlyn. I was four years old when biracial marriage was declared legal in the United States, and six years old when the Stonewall riots happened in Greenwich Village.

I watched Star Wars seventeen times in the theater when I was thirteen, and ESPN launched just before I turned sixteen. When CNN started broadcasting the following year, I watched the first 24-hours without a break; enthralled that the world was now only a satellite linkup away. I don’t remember what year I got my first email account and scrolled through the World Wide Web via a dial-up modem, but back then, LGBTQ and BDSM information was very hard to find.

Every generation lays claim to the title of ‘Most Changes’, but for Baby Boomers such as myself, the sheer speed of social change playing out in live streaming color, belies the fact that—as Virginia Woolf wrote—fluid gender has always been a part of human existence. The acceptance of others who are different than us, is up to each individual. Who would have guessed that starting a blog eleven years ago would have led to discovering my true identity? But here I am, a straight Dom male, with a bi switch female always hovering around peering over my shoulder. I accept who we are.

So does she.

Summer of Love

It seems that ’69 never really left the Bay Area. Besides snatching up all available housing and snarling local traffic, the explosion of high-tech industry is apparently sucking up all the available sexual partners as well. According to this article called, Silicon Valley’s Sexual Revolution, in the April 4th, 2017 edition of Wired magazine; what was once called ‘free love’ or ‘swinging’ is now officially morphed into Polyamory 2.0.

By Julian Sancton: In Silicon Valley, love’s many splendors often take the form of, well, many lovers. For certain millennials in tech—as well as, rumor has it, a few middle-aged CEOs—polyamory holds especial appeal. Perhaps that’s because making it work is as much an engineering challenge as an emotional one, requiring partners to navigate a complex web of negotiated arrangements. (There’s an app to keep track of that, obvs: The Poly Life.) Some enthusiasts even claim it’s the way of the future. “If life extension is possible, we might have to think about relationships differently,” says one Valley-based polyamorist. “It’s pretty hard to have an exclusive relationship with someone for 300 years.” True that—but balancing multiple LTRs takes just as much dedication and discipline (if not more).

The article goes on to list six bullet points including this little nugget: 4. Don’t be a letch: You shouldn’t go to a get-together hoping to hook up. These are not orgies. (Though tech-nerd orgies do get pret-ty wild, what with the color-coded bracelets signaling what you’re cool with doing/having done unto you.) And stick to your age bracket—restrictions are enforced to keep things comfortable.

I have nothing against polyamory, I was involved with my wife and another woman who lived with us for two years and we parted amicably, but I have some serious questions with the way the article *nudge-nudge, wink-wink* casts shade on the entire scene with more than a hint of California crunchy granola vibe. I mean, hasn’t Silicon Valley been rocked with sexual harassment claims from female engineers? And don’t all the major tech companies have a distinct lack of gender balance, in fact, steeply tilted towards males in both status, numbers and pay? Not to mention, a whitewash of upper management with the occasional token person of color or Asian.

One of the arguments against gay marriage is that once it was legally established, and same-sex marriage turned out not to be the end of the world, polyamorists would be pushing for legal bigamy next. We all know how that has worked out for the Mormons, although there are plenty of current cultures who practice bigamy for the elites. On the other hand, it was fifty years ago that the United States Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that biracial marriage was in fact legal. Society changes all the time, for better or for worse. Not too long ago, BDSM was firmly in the closet.

If the show Mad Men, unveiled the sordid ’60s chain-smoking sexual predators that stalked the secretarial pool in pressed white cotton button-downs, then today’s online hostility towards women in tech has been enabled and abetted by the same companies that seek to control every single aspect of our lives. I for one, don’t want apps watching in my bedroom or stalking me through targeted ads. The Internet of Things markets bold promises of inter-connectivity yet lags far behind in sensible security. Our entire online existence is at the mercy of hostile hackers who are constantly stealing identities and money from companies too cheap to protect their customers.

There is a serious and pervasive lack of respect for women in all areas and strata of society. The tech industry, along with the online juggernaut players are just that: players who give lip service to the rights of their employees and consumers while generating nothing physical that betters society. The profits are stashed away for a rainy day all the while politicians of all stripes scream at each other and let the country fall apart by doing nothing constructive. All the cute articles about polyamory aren’t going to change that equation into a positive app.